Navigating this Summer in the City


7th Graders on the first leg of a City Trip

As our school year ends and students work on their summer plans, you may be thinking about how your child will be navigating their way around the city this summer. Will you, their parent, be dropping them off at their internship, camp, soccer practice, or band rehearsal? Or will your child be able to get there and back on their own?

At the core of Near North Montessori’s adolescent program are “City Trips” – opportunities to orient the adolescent to their city home. Using the city and surrounding community as the Prepared Environment (truly, an extension of the 12-14 classroom) is challenging, dynamic, and always engaging.

As adolescents work to find their place in society, they can use their community as a place to study, work, and explore. By becoming a true citizen of their city, adolescents begin to understand how their society works, and how they can become involved in positive social change. That’s why it’s so important to start this work at the start of adolescence, in hopes that the students get more and more comfortable navigating on their own.

8th Graders explore NYC’s East Village

Last week, I had the opportunity to witness a growth in comfort of city navigation when I accompanied the 8th grade to Washington DC and New York City. In both cities, we were able to give the students a brief orientation to whatever neighborhood we were in, and then let them explore on their own for an hour or two. They bargained for souvenirs, rode the subways, found sunny park benches to hang out on, popped in and out of museums and galleries, and tried many varieties of street food. The students never shied away from these opportunities, having become used to this sort of experience in Chicago. Our tour guides in DC and NY, however, were shocked: no other school groups they have worked with give the kids this type of freedom and responsibility.

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, the 7th graders planned a multi-step City Trip. First they delivered lunch and toiletry packages they’d made to our new community partner, La Casa Norte. Then the kids planned a route downtown on the EL, stopping for lunch at a place of their choosing, before finally meeting up again with the whole class at Maggie Daley Park. On the way, a small group of students got turned around, heading off in the opposite direction of the park. At first they were anxious, but they were able to calmly find a way to seek help from adults by calling the school for directions, and then got back on track and found the park.

This sort of real-world experience is something that we adolescent educators love. By setting the students up for independent exploration of the city, we are able to provide opportunities for “failing safely” (like getting lost for a bit or getting on the wrong train), which is a lesson in and of itself. We always follow up with the students after an experience like getting lost, talking through scenarios and thinking of ideas for the next time it may happen.

To find out more about the City Trip curriculum, check out this Introduction to City Trips lesson I give to the students at the beginning of the year. We are also fond of the instructional cartoons from this book on city etiquette by Nathan Pyle, and revisit them with students a few times a year. They are clever and memorable reminders of how to move around the sidewalks, train stations and more. (Ask your child to demonstrate situational awareness: “Head on a swivel!”)

A much-referenced etiquette cartoon by Nathan Pyle

This summer, have a conversation with your child about traveling around the city with a friend or on their own. Have them plan the route, then show it to you before they take off. Talk through scenarios of what to do if they get lost, or feel uncomfortable. Trust that they are capable of making a plan and adapting to what challenges the city throws at them. Even if it’s just a couple trips to a buddy’s house or the grocery store, your kid will benefit from the continuation of this beautiful opportunity to practice freedom and responsibility in the real world.